The sport of climbing has gained remarkable momentum as of late, with young stars like Chris Sharma and Alex Honnold sparking unprecedented participation, especially among wide-eyed newbies. If you’re among them (I sure am, after being mesmerized watching climbers scale Yosemite’s world-renowned El Capitan), then why not take your next trip to new heights by visiting one of these great climbing towns?
The following destinations are great picks for climbing enthusiasts of all levels, whether you’re an aspiring novice or expert rock hound.
Boulder, Colorado: With a name like this, how can Boulder not be a climbing paradise? This picturesque mountain town, whose residents are almost universally – and freakishly – fit, boasts three of the country’s best crags just minutes from downtown, plus the most well-known high-altitude rock face in the lower 48 (the Diamond, on Longs Peak).
Here’s a great primer on the area's peaks and pitches, and make sure to stop by Neptune Mountaineering, a fantastic climbing store that has regular talks from world-renowned climbers and houses a nifty little museum with gear including ice picks dating back to the 1800s. Beginners can also check out the Colorado Mountain School, which offers intro classes, though most take place in the spring.
Chattanooga, Tennessee: This charming little town has long attracted climbers from all over the Southeast. Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Chattanooga boasts a plethora of crags for all skill levels, and mild weather means you’ll have your pick of places year-round. For resources and classes, check out the Tennessee Bouldering Authority and Urban Rocks.
Vancouver, British Columbia: The third-largest single rock face in continental North America, Canada's hardest sport route, unlimited alpine and ice climbing, plenty of single-pitch routes, plus Canada’s mildest weather in the lower mainland – no wonder that Vancouver and its environs are a haven for climbing junkies.
Urban climbers will love a visit to Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver, a perfect choice for a quick session without having to trek beyond city limits (though the quaint B&B in the park just might entice you to stay the night). For the big stuff, make the 30-mile drive to Squamish, where the 2,297-foot Stawamus Chief, the world’s second-largest granite monolith that’s also known as “The Chief,” beckons thrill-seekers. The smaller cliffs of the nearby Smoke Bluffs offer plenty of more leisurely ascents.
New Paltz, New York: Just 90 minutes beyond the chaos of Manhattan are the “Gunks,” short for Shawangunks, a group of mountains that attract some of the top climbers on the East Coast. For a primer on the sport, check out the Rock Climbing 101 courses offered by Eastern Mountain Sports. (And stay tuned for next week's post, which will focus on a specific winter-season offering by EMS.)
Lleida, Spain: Climbing legends Sharma and Dani Andrada call this mountainous Spanish province, which is about an hour and a half inland from Barcelona, home. Enough said.